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© Robert Southam.  All rights reserved.

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“How can I help a world where tens of millions of children die every year from starvation, malnutrition and preventable illness, and where those who survive have nothing to look forward to but two or three decades of hunger and misery, followed by an early death?”

Hundreds of thousands of school-leavers and university students in the world's more affluent countries ask the question year after year.

They would like to do more than just send a cheque to charity and see it lost in a sea of donations, without ever knowing how their gift will be used. Many volunteer for unpaid work in Africa, Asia or Latin America; most are refused by the aid organizations because they lack medical, engineering or teaching qualifications. The moment passes. They find themselves embracing the very economic system that has helped create the hunger, sickness and death they were ready to give body and soul to end. Their energy and altruism remain unharnessed and all too often seep like precious water into the sand, even if sometimes the flow continues underground for years and resurfaces later in life.

The challenge to the imagination is to help prevent the waste. At fm Oxford we are exploring ways of tapping and channelling all that positive energy while it lasts. We are happy to exchange ideas with people of all ages who feel they have something more to offer than the gesture of a cheque at Christmas - who long to take an active part in righting the world's greatest wrong.

Books are not food, and theatre isn't medicine, and yet the arts have their place in the struggle for a fairer distribution of both. Words inform: about colonization, exploitation, injustice; plays and novels provide the images that imprint themselves on the memory. (See Books and Theatre from Oxford.) Between 10 and 50 per cent of our profits - as much as we can afford without endangering our survival - are used to finance sustainable development projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America: weavers' co-operatives in Peru linked to schools teaching literacy in both Quechua and Spanish; schools in South Africa where pupils start learning to read and write not in the languages of the white masters of the recent past but in Xhosa. (See Projects supported.)

Many of the people of Africa, Asia and Latin America need our skills and money to help them help themselves. In return we have much to relearn from them in our competitive, affluent, stressed, unsmiling societies - about hospitality, neighbourliness, family and community responsibility, inner peace.

Like our readers and spectators, we want to see the demise of a world where already bloated human beings feed on members of their own species - even the jungle is more ethical than this - and the growth of one modelled on the just and caring family, where no member is excluded and food and medicine are shared equally - a famille mondiale. The task is to find practical ways of approaching this ideal.

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